Reflections on Being an Acquisitions & Appraisal Section Intern

internshipOctober 16, 2018

by Kathi Isham

This past year I had the privilege of serving as the SAA Acquisitions & Appraisal Section intern. As I hand over the reins to this year’s intern, Taylor de Klerk, I’d like to share my reflections on my internship; not only the new skills I developed, but how it helped me understand the nuts and bolts of the SAA organization, increased my commitment to serving the profession, and helped me develop professional connections with more experienced archivists.

The SAA Acquisitions & Appraisal section uses multiple channels of communication, most of which are managed by the Outreach Subcommittee (formerly named the Social Media Subcommittee). In addition to sending out announcements on SAA section and leader listservs and posting content on the A&A Section pages within the SAA website, the A&A section maintains a Facebook page, Twitter account, and this WordPress blog. My primary duty as A&A Section Social Media Intern was working with the Outreach Subcommittee to coordinate and create content to promote SAA and A&A Section activities and share content of interest to section members. I was responsible for posting all content on the Twitter and Facebook accounts and shared the responsibility of providing content for the blog with other section members.

One of the ways the A&A Section serves its members is by hosting Twitter chats on topics of interest. Last fall we co-hosted a chat with SAA’s Women Archivists and Women’s Collections sections on collecting Women’s March materials and women’s archives. I was already somewhat familiar with Twitter, but had never hosted a chat before. The outgoing Social Media Intern, Kira Baker organized the event with members of the other sections and explained how to host a Twitter chat using TweetDeck (a free web-based tool) to plan promotional tweets leading up to the event questions to send during the chat. The section also used Storify (a social media tool) to capture the chats and make them available to members who were unable to participate in real time. I was a little nervous about hosting the chat, but TweetDeck was fairly easy to use and once I had tweets set up to publish, the hardest part was reminding people to use the hashtag #AppraiseThis so the conversation could be followed by everybody. It was also fairly easy to learn how to use Storify to document the chat. Later in the year when we hosted a chat on collection development and acquisition policies I felt like a pro – I only forgot to use the hashtag once! In January 2018 I learned Storify was going out of commission, which put the section at risk of losing the ability to view past Twitter chats as meaningful aggregated exchanges of ideas. Fortunately, there was plenty of time for me to export the content of past section chats, create PDFs which could be stored in the section’s WordPress site, and publish new links in the old posts.

The A&A Section also serves its members by posting content on this WordPress blog, Assigning Value. This past year I posted content about section activities (elections, the annual meeting, and Twitter chats) and interviewed staff from Providence Public Library (PPL) for a repository update post. This was the first time I had conducted an interview for publication and it was a great learning experience. I was very glad I had charged my phone battery, because Kate and Jordan from PPL were very easy to talk to and what was intended to be a fifteen minute interview about acquisition and appraisal policies became a forty-five minute discussion. Later I learned how long transcribing dialog can take and how difficult it can be to edit when you get such thoughtful and interesting answers to your interview questions! I took the easy way out of the editing dilemma by posting the interview in two parts, which let me keep in all of the material that I thought would be of interest to A&A Section members.

Perhaps the most important learning experience of my internship was participating in A&A Section Steering Committee and Outreach Subcommittee meetings. I’ve attended Archives*Records conferences for several years, and was a member of the University of Texas iSchool SAA student chapter, but I learned a lot about how SAA works as an organization by listening to the A&A Section Steering Committee plan project work and the annual section meeting and by participating in the Social Media Subcommittee meetings. I used to think that because I’m a fairly new practicing archivist and don’t have a high level of expertise, I don’t have much to contribute to SAA; now I realize the combination of time, energy, and a few years of experience in the field can be put to great use in many different areas of the organization.  Participating in section meetings also gave me a great opportunity to develop relationships with more experienced archivists who share some of my professional interests. Everyone on the section Steering Committee had much more archives experience than I did, but was very gracious and encouraged my participation in discussions about section activities. I now have a whole new group of people I can reach out to with questions about acquisitions and appraisal, professional development, or participation in SAA.

Even though my formal appointment as an SAA intern has come to an end, this next year I will be serving SAA by participating in the A&A section Outreach Subcommittee and by working on the A&A section’s Zotero bibliography project.  I definitely encourage students and other new professionals to participate in the SAA internship program – it’s been a great learning experience!





Acquisitions & Appraisal Annual Section Meeting – Archives*Records 2018

by Kathi Isham/A&A Section Intern

On August 17th around 200 people attended the joint meeting of the SAA Acquisitions & Appraisal Section and the Records Management Section. The meeting started with a lively round of Networking Bingo which inspired this tweet:

Rachel Donahue @sheepeeh

Networking bingo might be my fave icebreaker activity. (Acq/Appraisal & RM joint meeting) #saa18


After the icebreaker, the Acquisitions & Appraisal Section started their official business. Bethany Anderson from the Nominating Committee introduced new Steering Committee members: Christian Kelleher is the new vice chair/chair-elect and Katie Delancenserie and Krista Gray are new Steering Committee at-large members; then outgoing section chair Cliff Hight thanked current Steering Committee members for their service, announced the changes to the standing rules had passed, and gave a short recap of section activities, which concluded A&A Section official business. The Records Management Section then conducted their meeting and it was time for the speakers.

The panelists this year were Lauren Gaines, manager, corporate archivist, and historian for Thrivent Financial, a midwestern Fortune 500 not-for-profit financial services organization, and Nate Jones, director of the Freedom of Information Act Project for the National Security Archive in Washington, D. C. The topic was records openness and how appraisal and retention scheduling decisions of archivists and records managers can affect larger public interest transparency efforts.

Lauren Gaines was the first speaker. She discussed the origins of Thrivent, which was formed to offer Lutherans a chance to buy insurance without violating their religious beliefs, how the archives have moved around within the organization, and how she is working with business units to ensure compliance with records retention schedules. Thrivent is a private company and the archives are a closed repository where all requests for information are vetted by the legal department. Her efforts to increase transparency are internal: implementing a records retention schedule and collection policy within Thrivent and documenting her decisions for future archivists. The company holds personal identifying information and medical records, so one of the biggest challenges she is facing is figuring out how to comply with EU privacy rules when legacy records are stored on microfilm.

Nate Jones’ presentation “The “Indiana Jones Warehouse”: Records Appraisal, Purgatory, and Accession” was about the challenges of accessing federal records that have been shipped from the originating office to federal records centers but have not yet been accessioned by NARA. He discussed the confusion of trying to figure out who has custody of the records because of the varying lengths of time the records are held in records centers (often decades) and the difficulty of locating records, which requires a researcher to travel to the federal records center and search through file cabinets for hard copies of transfer records. Jones proposed the situation could be improved by increasing funding for NARA, posting records control schedules and transfer forms online, and adopting automatic declassification.

There were several comments on twitter during the presentation:

Marcella @rageyhistorian

Transparency and outreach withIN the organization: archives can tell staff Thrivent’s done this same project 20 years ago under a different name! #appraisethis #saa18

Cliff Hight @cliffhight1

In the @AppraisalSAA and #saarms meeting, Lauren noted challenges to changing organizational culture especially as regulations and statutes are passed and implemented. #saa18

Alex Toner @atoner7

Lauren Gaines discusses how implementation of records retention schedule and collection development policy is enhancing transparency and business processes at Thrivent Financial. #saa18 #saarms #AppraiseThis

Lagerwhat? @Lagerwhat

Hot tip for all you researchers: Submit your records requests to the Washington Records Center if your FOIA requests for records between the 70s and early 90s aren’t as fruitful as you thought it’d be.

Meg Phillips @meg_phillips7

NARA’s FOIA ombudsman office blogged an attempt to answer @NSANate‘s question about access to records in records centers #saa18…

Brad Houstons brain is closed, pls try again later @herodotusjr

Nate Jones, National Security Archive: “Not all records need to be kept forever.” See? SEE? EVEN HE THINKS SO. #saa18 #petpeeves 

tdraut @tdraut

@rageyhistorian Increase funding for RM in all agencies! My agency would love to be better about FOIA, etc but we literally have no money/people to do it. If we focus on release of records now, that’s at the expense of managing current records. I hate to say it, but it’s almost a zero sum game

Increase funding for RM in all agencies! My agency would love to be better about FOIA, etc but we literally have no money/people to do it. If we focus on release of records now, that’s at the expense of managing current records. I hate to say it, but it’s almost a zero sum game

The Q&A after the presentations was pretty spirited as well. Several government records managers explained how Jones’ perception of the chain of custody for federal records was incorrect – records centers are functioning exactly how they are supposed to. Meg Phillips from NARA followed up on this by saying even though federal records are being handled according to approved protocols, if researchers don’t understand how the system works and are unable to locate records, there is a problem that needs to be addressed by NARA outreach. When asked  how we can be more transparent with our appraisal decisions Gaines talked about case by case conversations within her organization while Jones asserted that the more secretive a federal agencies activities are, the more important it is to save their records.

If you would like to view Nate Jones’ slides he has made them available via Twitter:

NSA Nate @NSANate

Here are my slides for today’s presentation on “The Indiana Jones Warehouse: Appraisal, Purgatory, and Accession” for @archivists_org Conference today. Will pry jot em up into an article at some point. #saa18… Fun talk!


Providence Public Library Special Collections: Acquisitions Policies and Practices, part 2

by Kathi Isham

This past March, I attended the New England Archivists Spring 2018 Meeting in New Haven and thoroughly enjoyed presentations by Providence Public Library staff about their outreach work to promote use of their special collections by the Providence arts community and their efforts to document that community by collecting material from local arts organizations. Providence Public Library (PPL) is a privately governed and funded institution that has been serving the public since 1878. The library’s late nineteenth century building filled with marble and ornate iron work was augmented by a sizable modern addition in 1954 and occupies a city block in downtown Providence. PPL’s Special Collections Department is located in the older portion of the building; patrons access Rhode Island Collections in the first floor reading room painted a vibrant “historical” shade of green and ringed with dark wood bookshelves and exhibition cases, access for all other special collections is provided in the former Boys & Girls Reading Room on the second floor, which is decorated with 1930’s murals representing characters from children’s literature. PPL’s holdings include special collections on Checkers & Whist, Children’s Books, Civil War and Slavery, History of the Printed Book, Irish History and Culture, Law and Legal History, Magic, Rhode Island History, and Whaling and Maritime History. All special collections materials are stored on site. In May I traveled to Providence and met with Kate Wells, Curator of Rhode Island Collections and Jordan Goffin, Head Curator of Collections who generously agreed to take a break from planning a major renovation to discuss their acquisitions policies and practices for this blog post. In part one of this post we discussed the history of PPL special collections, their acquisitions policies, and their thoughts about access. The following is part two of our discussion.

Do you find patron requests drive your collecting? Do you get a lot of suggestions for additions, besides people who are donating, from patrons and people who come in to use things?

Kate For Rhode Island Collection, like any local history collection, genealogists are a huge population base, so I wouldn’t say necessarily that they advocate for certain things to be added, but I am aware when I’m looking at things that are on the market, if that is something that would be of interest to a large user group. We do get a lot of requests for maps, so I’m always on the lookout for maps that aren’t otherwise represented in our collection.

Jordan I don’t think we have many direct requests. Now and then people will want access to a particular book that fits in our collecting. Like anyplace else, we’re collecting for people who aren’t born yet, so I think we’re essentially trying to imagine the users and buy for them.

Kate Maybe one example…we have long term researchers, we know their subject areas pretty well, having worked with them a long time, and I’m aware there’s not much in the collection related to “x” and I can see something come up, I know that it’s probably pretty rare, because they’ve had a hard time finding information on that topic. If I see something (like that) it might be more likely I’d buy it, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m buying for one researcher, it’s that it gives me a sense of what’s available for them to work with.

How do you prioritize your acquisitions? I’m guessing, like everybody else, you have limitations on space and on your budget. Do you identify specific things you’re going to collect for a while, but if something amazing comes up…

Jordan Yes, for instance, for our collection of type specimens we’ve explicitly stated that we want to extend to non-Latin type face and areas of the world that we haven’t in the past, less of the Anglo-American and continental European specimens…so that’s something that’s stated and booksellers know that we’re looking for other things like that.

Kate I would say that for me, it’s under-documented communities, so if I have the choice between a collection that represents the historic east side and College Hill or a neighborhood that is predominantly people of color, I’m going to go for the neighborhood of people of color, because that other neighborhood is well represented in collections across the city as well as in our own. Of course Rhode Island Collection’s acquisitions budget is still relatively small, so if I have to pay a huge amount, I’m less likely (to buy). We are very much still interested in people who want to give us things for free.

I’ll put a plug in for you – if anybody from Rhode Island reads this blog, they’re taking stuff for free!

Jordan Some stuff!

Kate We have a budget, but choosing what to spend money on is actually where it gets a bit like “I don’t have a ton of money, is this one item really worth it?” I’m a little pickier about things I spend (money on).

Jordan I think under-documentation is pretty much the theme for anything in the collections. Like most places, we have documentation of the things that have been collected, so we know that our users are really interested in things that haven’t traditionally been collected.

When you’re collecting from organizations that have a large amount of stuff squirreled away how are you deciding what you can take into your collection, especially things that are oversized or bulky or made of alternative materials that might require some special handling?

Kate Probably UPP Arts is the best example of that; as part of their work they did a lot of parades and processions with a lot of props and we generally don’t collect 3D materials or artifacts, we just don’t have shelving space for that kind of stuff. So, we worked with UPP and said “can you photograph items? We’ll be happy to take photographic evidence of these artifacts.” Then we took a small sample of things that could be flattened without damaging them. We took signage, some costumes which were done on cardboard and could easily be flattened and put in boxes, and a very tiny handful of things that would fit in record cartons. But, generally…(we) say we’re not collecting realia or artifacts (because of) a space constraint.

Do you plan to use this idea of sampling realia or artifacts if you continue to collect from other arts organizations or creative groups or individuals?

Jordan Yes

Kate I think so, it seems to be working. (Also) having a good photographic representation of what was there has worked well in the case of UPP and would be something we could explore. I’m trying to think if there are other types of organizations that would have a lot of artifacts…

Jordan In our work with artists, we are more focused on helping them use our collections…we have no plans to become an art museum. We’re interested in documenting artists and helping them use collections, much more than bringing in artwork.

Kate I’m trying to think for example, say a theater company got in touch with us, we would not be able to take in props or costumes, but we would be interested in…the graphic design related to posters, or handbills and playbills, or institutional records about how you made the decisions about what you put on. I think we would be much more interested in that kind of material, rather than the output of the decision itself.

Since you’re also interested in acquiring digital files, for groups that stage events or performances, maybe having a recording will help document use of costumes or props, even more fully than a photograph might?

Kate for UPP Arts born digital…with the ease of people taking digital photographs, (they had) thousands and thousands of images. We worked with them (and said) for each individual event, let’s constrain it to twenty or twenty-five of the best images that represent that event. For example, go ahead and eliminate the photographs where it’s just the back of people’s heads and it’s not showing anything particular. We don’t need twenty different images of the same speaker at a podium, just pick one. That’s easier when it’s an organization where you’re dealing with the creator/donor directly. Certainly, if we’re taking in collections where people are no longer around that’s a different kind of process.

Do you or does somebody else on your staff help them with selection or do you require them to do that on their own before you collect materials?

Kate Well, UPP Arts was this bizarre dreamlike scenario where they themselves received a grant to hire a project archivist with the intention that the archives would be donated here. Never before in my life, knock on wood, has a collection arrived processed by a professional archivist, foldered, labeled, finding aid and inventory ready!

That is a dream, that’s fantastic!

Kate I know! I worked a lot with her as she was finding things, saying “ok, what makes sense for us in terms of images?” and things like that, but, that was this bizarre dream scenario. But with AS220 for example, our project archivist works very hands on with the people who have been designated as her organizational contacts, so they’re often having conversations about “does it make sense to send this over? Yes, but maybe here’s how we can deal with it.”

I know that this is the thing that you don’t ask a parent, but do either of you have a favorite collection here at PPL?

Jordan You’re not allowed to ask that!

Kate I think that changes depending on what I’ve most recently pulled.

Can you say what is your current favorite?

Jordan Can we say item as well?

Sure, item or collection.

Jordan My favorite item right now is a book on the evolution of industry by a guy whose last name is Butterworth, which already raises it in my estimation, just for that reason. I’ve always been drawn to practical items…I’d be less excited if someone was offering us a first folio than a big collection of manuals of how to repair mill machinery with great illustrations of cogs and people have written in the margins about how they tried something else and it worked better. That kind of stuff, books that people have actually used as tools, are always my favorite.

Kate I’d say my favorite item is a newspaper called The Searchlight, that was published in 1915 by the Rhode Island Society for the Suppression of Vice at the height of progressive moralism. What I think I love about it is although it’s talking about downtown Providence as a den of iniquity, with the theaters and the restaurants and the nightclubs and the vaudeville circuit, what is fascinating about it is it’s the only good source of information I’ve ever seen on drug dealers and prostitution in downtown Providence. They’re talking about it as a way to stay away from sinfulness and by issue number six they’re having letters to the editor where they’re talking about how all they’re doing is driving up interest! I love this idea that people are reading the (publication for) Society for the Suppression of Vice and actually just going out and participating in the vice.

It’s actually a road map!

Kate Absolutely! Here’s where all the brothels are and what they serve! I think as a collection we took in, in multiple acquisitions, the Lou Costa collection on Fox Point, a neighborhood in Providence that historically has been immigrants and over the past one hundred years has been mostly Cape Verdean immigrants and other Portuguese Azorian and Portuguese diaspora and then in the past 20 years has been completely gentrified and is now almost all student apartments. So, it’s a fascinating look at one hundred years of this immigrant community and it’s just the daily lives of people. It’s really fun to look at people’s personal photo albums that were donated by somebody who is still collecting. He grew up there and has a love of the neighborhood and talks about how he goes to peoples’ funerals and says to their children “don’t clean out your mother’s house until you think about saving things that document the neighborhood.” For us, that was exciting because it was our first big collection that related to immigrants and people of color as well as a non-English speaking community.

It hit all your collecting points!

Kate Yes, it absolutely hit all our points. The photographs could be interesting for an architectural preservationist who’s interested in the past one hundred years of this historic neighborhood, or it’s genealogists, or it’s people interested in immigrant communities, this really hits so many different levels

Here’s my last unfair question: what’s your current dream acquisition? If money wasn’t an object…is there something that you’ve had your eye on and thought “we’d love to add that?”

Kate I will say that when I first started this job our dream acquisition was AS220 and we got it, so I’m not sure…Now I feel like, oh gosh, I have to be careful what I look for next, because that was a big collection! …I would love to do more to document the alternative leftist progressive community in Providence from the 1960’s forward, but that’s a lot of relationship building with people who are getting ready to retire.

And who might be slightly suspicious…

Kate That’s true! I will say, it’s not a Rhode Island based collection, but the collection at Brown that I love is the Hoagland Howe collection, who was a centrist and was completely suspicious of radicals on either the right or the left and who collected all sorts of propaganda material. It’s this unbelievably interesting collection, that would be the kind of thing that would be fascinating.

Jordan I’m going to give you a cop-out answer to an unfair question: I’m excited by an acquisition of something that I didn’t know existed. Our most recent purchase is a couple of Irish broadsides called Skellig Lists, which apparently were lists that were printed in Irish towns trying to shame all the single people into getting married. Maybe I should have heard of these things before, but I hadn’t, and so it was one of those things you see in a catalog and you think “I have to have that right now!” My dream acquisition is another one of those, where you just open the catalog, say “I’ve never heard of this before in the world and it’s just gotta be here!”

I want to thank Kate and Jordan for participating in this conversation and I hope the next time you’re in Rhode Island, you stop by Providence Public Library!

Providence Public Library Special Collections: Acquisitions Policies and Practices, part 1

by Kathi Isham

This past March, I attended the New England Archivists Spring 2018 Meeting in New Haven and thoroughly enjoyed presentations by Providence Public Library staff about their outreach work to promote use of their special collections by the Providence arts community and their efforts to document that community by collecting material from local arts organizations. Providence Public Library (PPL) is a privately governed and funded institution that has been serving the public since 1878. The library’s late nineteenth century building filled with marble and ornate ironwork was augmented by a sizable modern addition in 1954 and occupies a city block in downtown Providence. PPL’s Special Collections Department is located in the older portion of the building; patrons access Rhode Island Collections in the first floor reading room painted a vibrant “historical” shade of green and ringed with dark wood bookshelves and exhibition cases, access for all other special collections is provided in the former Boys & Girls Reading Room on the second floor, which is decorated with 1930’s murals representing characters from children’s literature. PPL’s holdings include special collections on Checkers & Whist, Children’s Books, Civil War and Slavery, History of the Printed Book, Irish History and Culture, Law and Legal History, Magic, Rhode Island History, and Whaling and Maritime History. All special collections materials are stored on site. In May I traveled to Providence and met with Kate Wells, Curator of Rhode Island Collections and Jordan Goffin, Head Curator of Collections who generously agreed to take a break from planning a major renovation to discuss their acquisitions policies and practices for this blog post. We chatted for close to an hour, the following is part one of our discussion.

What is the history of special collections at PPL?

Jordan It wasn’t until the 60’s that (PPL) actually had special collections and hired a special collections librarian, but before that they had been adding what we now have as special collections to the library…by the mid-1880’s, the library acquired a collection on Civil War & Slavery…this was a collection that the library actually bought, it was seen as an intact special collection, but there was no special collections department, I don’t actually know how access was provided early on, but over the years other special collections were added, essentially as rooms that patrons were provided access to.

Kate The Rhode Island Collection was formed in about 1900 out of the reference department. They created a Rhode Island reference center with a card catalog because they were getting so many repeat reference questions about what was the state bird, etc. It was always part of the reference department and it didn’t circulate, it was library use only materials that were not considered rare at the time. They had a part time reference librarian who was dedicated to the Rhode Island Collection access and providing reference up until, I want to say 8 years ago.

Jordan Actually, maybe 7.

Kate Yes, maybe 7 or 8 years ago when there was a realization that there’s some pretty unique content here as well as some rare materials and things that would be very difficult to replace…it was considered special collections material at that point and there was a reconfiguration of the department. Rhode Island Collection was considered part of special collections, so staffing shifted. I’ve been here 5 years…my predecessor was not here as long…there was an awareness of needing people who had the ability to deal with some of the backlog content that we had, which was archival, whether photographs or manuscript material, and lots of rare book cataloging, which hadn’t really been done in either collection. With the renovation we’ll physically be merging the special collections and Rhode Island Collection; even though we’re part of the same department, we’re physically in different places. Post-renovation our storage will be merged, our reading room will be merged, we’ll have a full departmental staff, which will enable us to staff the reading room jointly. So, the collections have been in place for a long time, but they hadn’t really been considered as an intact department.

Were there other large collections that that were brought in and kept in separate areas for people to access?

Jordan Yes, it’s hard to go back and figure out how (some) were used and managed…there was the Harris Collection and the Updike Collection, (which) was founded in 1937. It had its’ own special room, it was perceived as a collection…We had a librarian who dealt with business and industry and that was how you got access to the collection…The magic collection for a while was maintained outside of special collections…and we recently transitioned an art and architecture collection to special collections. There were little pocket collections across the building… and the library is now realizing it makes a lot more sense to let them coalesce and be treated as special collections.

How large do you think your holdings are in special collections?

Kate I don’t know about the department as a whole. Rhode Island Collection I think has about 20,000 individually cataloged items and about 18,000 photographs or visual materials and I don’t know the linear feet for manuscript, but it’s not huge. We were never focused on manuscript collecting until more recently. That doesn’t include the backlog though, I would almost double those numbers for backlog.

Jordan We’ve traditionally said somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 before we added some of the other collections, so 50,000-ish? You can tell from the way that we’re talking that intellectual control has not been solid for these collections. As part of this renovation we’re planning to do an actual inventory and have real numbers. We’re really excited to have the ability to answer that question at some point in the future. Right now, for special collections separate from Rhode Island we estimate that maybe half of the collection is not in the online catalog, which, again, makes it hard for us to count things and give numbers to things. So somewhere between 50 and 100,000, whatever you want to call that number, pick a number.

Is there is special collections department and how many people does that include right now?

Jordan Myself, Kate and Angela are full time permanent staff. We also have a project archivist, who is working through the end of this fiscal year.

Kate She’s grant funded on continuing grants, so fingers crossed we will keep her on.

Jordan We’ve had lots of volunteers over the years and Kate still has a lot of volunteers and interns and people working on projects.

Do you have people from the community or library science students?

Kate We’ve mostly constrained it to library science students, predominantly Simmons students…and we have a long-term volunteer, who is a professional in the field, so that’s fantastic because we can give her more complicated projects. Occasionally we’ll have smaller projects and we’ll bring in people who don’t have any kind of training, but we’ve been pretty lucky with people who have some experience already. Then we have scanning technicians who are short term grant funded, they’re not really part of special collections…usually one or two part-time people for shorter term projects per year.

What do you collect now?

Jordan Until the last couple years, our acquisitions funding has been really limited, so there has been a certain amount of money to purchase Rhode Island materials, there have been endowed funds for purchasing whale log books, and then a little bit of money for other things here and there, like our Irish collection, but other than that it was pretty much collect when you can scrape together money one way or another. Now is the first time we have a more stable source of funding for acquisitions for special collections, so …for me the challenge has been figuring out how to collect in new ways that go just far enough off target from what we have been collecting, they’re still expanding the reach of what we’re collecting, but we’re not collecting the same thing. Because in some cases the things that we’re strongest at, we can’t really buy and the return on that investment is pretty low. So, 18th century English and continental European type specimen books are now really expensive and adding one more…doesn’t do that much for us for the price. We’ve been trying to extend into areas that people who are already coming to our collections would have something new that could be useful in the same ways.

Are you trying to contextualize so you have more supporting material that is complimentary to existing collections?

Jordan Part of it is just geographic and time areas that haven’t been collected before; part of it is we’re really interested in use of our collections by artists and designers and people working creatively in whatever way they might be. For instance, recently we purchased a tattoo collection, which we don’t have any prior collection of tattoo materials, but we do have a whaling collection and a typography collection, so, that tattoo collection kind of sits between them. People who are graphic designers or artists, who are coming in to look at typography might be interested in lettering and design and art of tattoos, so finding areas where we can extend ourselves but remain in contact with what we’ve always been collecting is where we’re changing.

Kate For Rhode Island Collection, when I started we sat down and the challenge was to identify who else in Rhode Island is collecting what and what isn’t being collected, so where does it make the most sense for us to expend our energy? We decided about five years ago to focus on contemporary collecting with the goal that we want to be the first non-academic institution to really be ready to collect born-digital…let’s focus on later 20th century and 21st century, let’s work with our IT folks to be ready to collect born-digital. I think we got to that point about two years ago and the word got out that that’s what we’re interested in collecting. Then, about three years ago we had this focus on the arts community, so that helped us refocus the Rhode Island Collection to say we’re really interested in the creative culture of Rhode Island, Providence specifically, which I think has a really unique creative community, and we’re interested in neighborhood history. Basically, the way I think of it… is that I’m not interested in rich white men…we’ve got enough of them in our collection…who else is out there and how can we capture their history is what we’re interested in. We’ve got really good relationships with our colleagues at other collecting institutions…if something gets offered to us and it doesn’t quite make sense for us… I’ll do my best to try to reign myself in…even though it’s really awesome, and we have our colleagues who are doing the same thing for us, so I think that has created a more collegial sense of understanding who really is working with what.

Jordan I just want to say that one of the things that Kate has done really well is to do outreach to communities and make the case for why those collections belong in a public library. And she’s done a great job of focusing our collecting area on those sorts of communities and organizations whose records should be in a public library and also explaining to them why that’s the case. I think a lot of the really great collections that Kate’s brought in in the last few years (are a result of) starting conversations and then three or four years later, following up in a way that makes it clear that…your papers are something that should be preserved and we really are the place where they should be kept, because of the way we’re going to keep them and also because of the people who are going to access them. The Rhode Island Collection in the past was not really a manuscript repository, it wasn’t an archives, it wasn’t focused on archival collections.

Kate We had a vast amount of photographs donated over the years, so if you’re thinking about a visual archives, yes, but if you’re thinking of manuscript material, not really. That’s newish for us…we would not be the place researchers would think of in terms of “I’ll make sure in my scholarly review of who has what in Rhode Island,” they weren’t thinking of us

Jordan But, organizations like AS220, the Urban Pond Project, individual collectors, some really recent great neighborhood documentation…

Kate What we’re seeing now is the outreach that’s happened with, for example Angela into the arts community as users, is bringing people to this realization of “oh, you also collect? Maybe you’d want my things.” So, I think there’s an easily identifiable relationship between getting people engaged as researchers and then ultimately getting them engaged as donors and that’s huge. I don’t know how much of that is specific to the Providence creative community, which maybe maintains relationships more than larger cities would.

Jordan Most of special collections outside of Rhode Island Collections also hasn’t been a traditionally archival manuscript based collection. We’re trying to bring in some things like that, but we’re less focused on documenting individuals and organizations, we’re more focused on topical collecting and thinking about creating research resources. We might collect the records of a printer, but we’re doing that not because we need to document the community of letterpress printers, we’re collecting it because we have a collection on typography and printing.

Kate I think the tattoo acquisition is one that is a good example of looking at a much broader base (to see if) there other people collecting this kind of material. When that came up, (we thought) is this just a totally random thing that we’re going to have this? Because everybody’s going to think (they should) go to Chicago or San Francisco for it, but in fact, most of those collections are in private hands, there aren’t really many that are held within a library setting. That was one where we looked at the collection (to decide if it) really made sense nationally.

Jordan Yes, we’re approaching some of those manuscript collections from more of a rare book collecting mindset.

Do you have a stated acquisition policy? Do you have something that you can point to when you’re trying to justify a purchase or dealing with a potential donor to say this does or doesn’t fit within our policy?

Kate We do. Rhode Island Collection is still in an internal use only format. We have a blurb on the website…we’re interested in 20th and 21st century, we’re interested in cultural history, we say that. The internal draft for Rhode Island Collection, which has gone by our special collection committee and is definitely an established thing, although not something which we would point the public to, is a little bit more fleshed out, in which we would say, for example, we are not interested in the records of a bank, a church, or an educational institution…although that is malleable to a certain extent.

Jordan The Rhode Island Collection policy was updated more recently, so it really is more detailed…the special collections policy overall was done before we had any real resources for collecting. Essentially it was, we have some money for whales, and that’s that…that one needs to be formalized as part of our renovation and departmental renaissance.

Are you thinking of having it be publicly available once you work on that?

Jordan Yes, we talked about that a little bit, it’s not top secret.

PPL is a public library, although it’s set up a little differently from most other public libraries. Are your stakeholders the same as other public library stakeholders for acquisitions?

Jordan One of the things that has made us a little bit different from other public libraries is our non-Rhode Island collections, which are, in some ways, like a lot of other rare book libraries, and a lot of public libraries don’t necessarily have that kind of collection. What we want to do is rather than turn the collecting, turn the use public, so that essentially there’s no reason that somebody walking in off the street shouldn’t have the chance to just sit (down) and flip through a medieval manuscript. That‘s been our attitude, we’re not focusing thematically in terms of subject collecting on a public library audience, we’re collecting the way other places might and turning our outreach to enable people who want to use it, to use it in a public way.

Kate I would say another piece that access thing has a lot of impact on, more for archival rather than rare books, is we will not take anything in if it is restricted, because access is so much a part of what our focus is. I will say one caveat: for example, the Urban Arts Procession did a lot of programming with youth, so the use copy for a researcher will be redacted with children’s identifying information, and things like that (removed). That’s one reason to restrict that’s totally appropriate, but, for example, if someone said “I’ll give you my papers but, I want you to wait 40 years after my death,” we don’t have the space to accommodate that kind of storage, so we are always thinking about, if something’s coming in the door, how much use is it going to get, and a big piece of that is can it be used immediately? As soon as we can process it or catalog it, is it available to people with limited copyright restrictions, limited privacy restrictions, whatever else? I’ve never (worked) in a public library special collections before and I can’t imagine going back to work for an institution that makes it hard for people to walk in the door. That, to me, is probably what makes working here more fun, because we have a very wide user base and it includes people who are well off and people who are indigent, and people who speak English and who don’t, and children and adults, and everyone across the gamut. Seeing people come in, who may be intimidated by the idea “oh, this is too precious to be handled” and for us to say “are your hands clean? Do you have some sort of photo id? Let’s get you set up” and try to make sure that whatever we bring in the door is something that can be handled. You’re always balancing that against conservation and preservation issues, we’d be irresponsible if we didn’t.

So, two-year olds and medieval manuscripts, you’re a bit iffy on that?

Jordan Not really! …We’ve had birthday parties for eight-year olds and had them passing around scrimshawed whale teeth, and for the record, they are excellent, respectful patrons. Unless it’s physically impossible for somebody to use something without physically damaging it, there’s almost no restriction.

Stay tuned for part 2 where we discuss patrons’ influence on acquisitions and appraising organizational records.

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Can I Deduct That? – A Primer for Archivists

This guest blog article is written by Stuart Lutz, who provides clarification of the rules pertaining to tax deductible record donations. Lutz is a professional appraiser who operates his own company, Stuart Lutz Historic Documents Inc. More resources on appraisal are available through the SAA Acquisitions & Appraisal Section’s microsite Monetary Appraisal of Archival Materials web page and Bibliography listing.


“My husband is a well-known poet and a retired university professor,” the woman told me on the phone.  “We want to donate all his papers to the college where he worked, so we need a donation appraisal from you.”

I asked the woman if her husband was still alive.  “Yes, he’s standing right here next to me if you want to speak to him.”  I then gave her the bad news; while her living husband’s papers can be donated, their fair market value cannot be deducted from the family’s taxes.

“But…but…” she stammered, “the university officials and the archivists gave their approval.  They said I needed to find an appraiser and then we can get a large deduction.”

I explained to her the two major reasons why her husband’s papers cannot be written off; neither self-created archives nor products of paid work can be tax deducted.  I cited to the shocked woman some of the IRS regulations and Tax Court decisions, and she said she was going to discuss the matter with her accountant.

In my years of performing donation appraisals, I have found that many archivists are ignorant of basic tax laws, particularly when it comes to donations.  Archivists may be signing IRS 8283s on behalf of their institutions for materials that are not allowed to be legally deducted.  This brief blog will explain to archivists three of the major categories of items that cannot be tax deducted, and I will cite the laws and Tax Court decisions behind them.

Before discussing the three categories, I will give the IRS’s definition of fair market value (FMV) for donation purposes (the IRS definition for estate taxes is slightly different):

Fair market value is the price that property would sell for on the open market. It is the price that would be agreed on between a willing buyer and a willing seller, with neither being required to act, and both having reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts. If you put a restriction on the use of property you donate, the FMV must reflect that restriction.[1]

The non-deduction scenarios

There are three types of materials that cannot be tax deducted, and here are the individual scenarios:

Self-created archives cannot be tax deducted.  The IRS has ruled that self-created materials cannot be deducted for anything more than the cost of the materials to create the donated item, such as the paper and ink if they are manuscripts, or the canvas and the paint if they are paintings.[2]  If a living author wants to donate his or her book manuscripts, all he or she can deduct is the cost of the paper and the ink (which will probably not amount to much).  This self-created archive rule applies to every citizen, all the way up to the president.  Although we may think that Richard Nixon’s famous “I’m not a crook” line related to Watergate, it was about his illegal tax deductions for his self-created Vice-Presidential archives that he donated to the National Archives.[3]  Nixon eventually paid $465,000 in back taxes to the IRS after the donation of his Vice-Presidential archive was disallowed.[4]

Products of paid work cannot be tax deducted.  The archival residue from a paid job cannot be tax deducted either.  In the mid-1980s, The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper donated to the California Historical Society its clippings library that contained about 7.8 million articles from the Chronicle and other newspapers. The newspaper took a $1.5 million tax deduction in 1983, $458,000 deduction in 1984 and a $891,000 deduction in 1985. The IRS disallowed the deductions since they are the product of paid work, and the Chronicle challenged the ruling.  The case went to the Tax Court, where the judges ruled in the IRS’s favor in the 1991 case Chronicle Publishing Co. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue.[5]  The court stated that the business could not deduct a “letter, memorandum, or similar property…for whom such property was prepared or produced.”  The Court’s decision concluded that “Because [the San Francisco Chronicle] Company’s basis in the library is zero, Company’s charitable contribution for its donation to Organization [the California Historical Society] is reduced to zero.”[6]  In other words, the product of paid work – even if they are letters to someone at the company, like the CEO – cannot be deducted.  Likewise, the CEO of a company cannot deduct the papers he or she created while in that role.

Letters written to someone still living cannot be tax deducted.  If a prominent alum of your university owns a lengthy correspondence with a President and now wants to donate the letters to the school, those letters cannot be tax deducted either.  The reason for this is that such a donation needs a cost basis, and letters received through the mail have no cost basis – they are essentially a gift.  In Publication 526 (page 11, middle column), the IRS states about the donation of ordinary income property that they generally limit “the deduction to your basis in the property.”[7]  This rule does not apply just to letters received through the mail.  If Truman Capote gave me a book manuscript, I cannot deduct its value in a donation.  If Jasper Johns gave me a painting, I cannot deduct its value in a donation.  If Annie Leibovitz gave me original photographs…you get the idea.

What Can Be Tax Deducted

There are many items that can be donated and tax deducted, and here are some examples:

If a collector, in the course of his or her life, bought every Robert Louis Stevenson publication and wanted to donate the book collection to an institution, that could be tax deducted because there is a cost basis.  The donor can calculate how much he or she spent in creating the collection.

If a donor’s grandfather received a letter from Theodore Roosevelt and it came down through the family, the FMV of the letter could be tax deducted by the donor.  There is a tax loophole called the “stepped-up basis”.  Once materials go through the estate process, the inheritors get the original cost basis (if any) eliminated; they get to claim the full fair market value of an item on the day of inheritance.[8]

If a donor’s father bought a Thomas Jefferson letter and the donor inherited it, that could be tax deducted because of the stepped-up basis.

If Truman Capote gave me a book manuscript (or Jasper Johns bestowed upon me a painting), I could leave it to my heirs and they could deduct its FMV.

If the poet whom I mentioned in the opening paragraph left his papers to his children, that archive could be tax deducted since it will have gone through the estate tax and the stepped-up basis.

Last Notes…

Two last points for archivists.

First, a qualified appraisal is only required if the donated material has a fair market value exceeding $5,000.[9]

Second, archivists should be aware of the Art Advisory Panel.[10]  The board, which consists of up to twenty-five experts (some of whom are antiques dealers and curators) who serve without pay, reviews all appraisals with a single item with a claimed value of $50,000 or more. In other words, if the taxpayer donated 50, 500 or 5,000 items and just one has a value over $50,000, the Art Advisory Panel will give the appraisal extra scrutiny to make certain the valuation is correct.  Do not let the word “Art” in the panel’s name fool you; if someone donate an inverted Jenny stamp or a 1971 Plymouth HemiCuda, both of which have a FMV in excess of $50,000, the board will give the donation appraisal an in-depth review.  The Panel reviews both donation and estate tax appraisals.

If the IRS believes the monetary value assigned in the appraisal are significantly off (usually over-inflation for donations and under-inflation for estate taxes), the IRS can and will hire outside experts to challenge the original appraiser’s conclusions. In a recent case involving an estate, a Sotheby’s expert appraised artwork by the Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Younger at $500,000 in 2005. The IRS thought this valuation was too low, and it brought in their own expert, who presented evidence that the work was worth $2.1 million based on other recent sales. The tax court judge finally assigned the painting a fair market value of $1,995,000, meaning the estate had undervalued the painting and would likely owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional taxes, penalties and interests.[11]

Of course, one can sell self-created materials to a private buyer or an institution and avoid many of these tax deduction issues.

About the author

Stuart Lutz is a Certified Member of the Appraisers Association of America (AAA), qualified in the field of Books and Manuscripts: Historic Documents.  He is USPAP (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice) compliant and has taught appraisal classes at the AAA.  He has been in the historic document and manuscript field for over a quarter-century.  He is the author of The Last Leaf: Voices of History’s Last Known Survivors (Prometheus Books, 2010), which contains almost forty interviews with the final survivors or last eyewitnesses of historically important events. His contact information is available via his website at and a fuller version of this article can be found here.  The author notes that this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional tax advice.












Now Accepting Nominations for SAA Acquisitions & Appraisal Section Steering Committee

Update: Deadline for nominations has been extended to May 28!

Dear colleagues,

The Acquisitions and Appraisal Section has openings for three positions on the steering committee:

  • Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect
  • Steering Committee At-Large Member (2 positions available)

In order to be nominated for these positions, candidates must be a member of the Society of American Archivists and a member of the Acquisitions and Appraisal Section at the time of nomination.

The duties of these positions are as follows:

Vice Chair/Chair-Elect (1 position):

  • The Vice Chair serves a one-year term (2018-2019), beginning at the conclusion of the SAA Annual Meeting. The Vice Chair assists with communication and outreach efforts, producing and overseeing communications. The Vice Chair takes minutes at Section meetings; acts as the chair in the absence of the Section Chair; organizes the program in conjunction with the steering committee for the annual Section meeting; and contributes occasionally to subcommittee work.
  • At the conclusion of the 2019 Annual Meeting, the Vice Chair assumes the role of Chair for the following year (2019-2020), and subsequently as Immediate Past Chair (2020-2021).
  • The Chair presides at meetings of the Section and the steering committee; coordinates Section-proposed sessions for the SAA Annual Meeting and section endorsements; and sets the Section’s agenda for the year with assistance from the Section leadership team. The Chair serves as Section representative with respect to SAA, SAA Council, and other groups within SAA; appoints Section subcommittees as needed; and coordinates the preparation of an annual report of Section activities and submits it to the SAA executive office.
  • The Immediate Past Chair is responsible for chairing the Nominating Committee for that year’s section election.
  • In each role, this person is expected to attend the SAA Annual Meeting and recurring section meetings (at least four per year).
  • The time commitment for this role is estimated at 5 hours per month.

Steering Committee Members (2 positions):

  • Members serve two-year terms (2018-2020), eligible for reelection to a second term.
  • Members co-chair at least one of the Section subcommittees, regularly attending meetings and reporting back to the Section.
  • Members serve on the Nominating Committee, assist in planning annual meeting sessions of interest to the Section, and participate in Section subcommittees (such as the Best Practices Subcommittee). They also participate in discussion of Section business.
  • Members are expected to attend the SAA Annual Meeting and recurring section meeting conference calls.
  • The time commitment for this role is estimated at a few hours a month.

Please send candidate suggestions to the Nominating Committee by May 20, 2018.  Final ballot information will be sent to SAA by June 1, 2018. Elections will be held online in July 2018. For questions and to submit nominations, please contact the Nominating Committee:

Consider nominating yourself or a colleague! Please include name, email address, and institution (if available) of the suggested candidate.


April 19 Twitter Chat: Collection Development and Acquisition Policies

Join us April 19 at 7pm EST for a twitter chat on collection development and acquisition policies! We’ll be asking the archives community to weigh in on the following questions:

  1. Do you think collection development or acquisition policies are necessary? 
  2. After reading through the survey at, any initial thoughts or feedback?
  3. Do the survey results represent your institution accurately? 
  4. The data indicates many often have little influence on writing a policy, what would increase your ability to influence it more? 
  5. Do you think these kinds of policies should be easily available, such as on institutional websites?  Why or why not? 
  6. For those whose policies need revision before uploading, could the A&A section offer some assistance? In what form? 
  7. For those whose institution lack policies, what would help you get those written?
  8. Could the A&A section offer assistance to get that process jump-started? 
  9. What do you think are best practices in the creation of collection development policies?

We hope to hear from you @AppraisalSAA – remember to end your tweets with #AppraiseThis so we can include you in the conversation!

If you missed the conversation, a recap is now available at Chat_20180319_AcquisitionsPolicies